Sato’s Road to Manga #35

Whenever someone asks me “If you hadn’t become a mangaka, what would you have been?” I have trouble answering. I feel like I draw manga because I have no other place to go. I have no other redeeming features, so drawing manga was all I could do. I’m defective, but I was also proud of that fact.

 

The royalties from my first published volume had been deposited into my bank account, and I had just moved from my 10.5 square meter apartment in Kouenji to a 3DK apartment in Takadanobaba. I was still using my apartment as my own office, but it was finally now large enough for me to actually live inside it.

 

I drew in my own private 10.5 square meter room, while my staff members lined up their desks in the other tatami matted room and worked in there. This apartment cost 170,000 yen per month. (At first, I had a female friend live there with me as a roommate, but she wouldn’t pay her rent, so I quickly kicked her out.)

 

At the time, there were two large factions of people in the editors’ office: the old editor-in-chief’s faction, and the new editor-in-chief’s faction. The old editor-in-chief liked challenging pieces that fit well with a magazine targeted toward young adults, while the new editor-in-chief preferred wholesome, cheerful pieces that would fit better in a boys’ magazine. In fact, he had worked as an editor-in-chief for a boy’s magazine before this, and when he came to our office, he brought a lot of changes in policy with him.

 

My editor F-san was allied with this new editor-in-chief, so of course, he wanted me to start writing storylines that were more kid-oriented. Perhaps because I had drawn a lot of deaths up to this point, all of a sudden, he said to me in what was basically an order, “Don’t draw any more people dying! No matter what!”

 

In short, he wanted me to draw a “strong, wholesome superhero” who always rescued the victims.

 

I didn’t like the new editor’s policies. If I was a genius who could dance my way through society without any trouble, then I wouldn’t have become a mangaka. And telling someone not to draw any scenes where characters die in a rescue manga is just ludicrous.

 

But then, F-san said: “If someone who was actually in a marine accident read the manga and saw a victim die, they’d be hurt.”

 

So to him, “not death = wholesome,” and “death = unwholesome.” If we were to stand in the shoes of someone who had actually been in a marine accident and think of it that way, it’d be horrible. I had no intentions of drawing some cheap, melodramatic manga where the only purpose was to make people cry when drowning people get saved, nor did I want to create mere entertainment that helped people turn their eyes away from how cruel reality can be.

 

But even before this, when I heard about the new policies, and was instructed by the new editor-in-chief on how I should change the direction of my manga, I just said “It’s already started, so I can’t change it now.”

 

The editors did everything they could to force their own ideologies on me, and it did nothing but obstruct me from my work. If only they wouldn’t get in my way, this would be so much easier, I thought.

 

I was also taken aback by how he would verbally tear apart the editors on the old editor-in-chief’s side. To me, they were all employees at the same company, so even if they felt like complaining about someone else, it seemed the moral thing to do was just to shut up.

 

I couldn’t understand why he would say bad things about a work that was currently in serialization in his own magazine. He’d talk about a manga that was particularly dark and say “If yours turns out like that, you’re finished,” over and over again, as if it would make me decide to write a wholesome manga. He probably also said bad things about me to other authors.

 

Whenever I heard him talk bad about other authors, that was all I thought about. He’s saying the very same thing about me. I even wondered why he couldn’t see it himself. Perhaps because he and the other editors simply thought they were so much greater than mangaka, they had simply numbed themselves to what it really meant to talk bad about other people.

 

I’ll never forget when I went to go introduce myself to the new editor-in-chief. I thought I had done my best to introduce myself politely, but he just kept his face pointed down toward his desk, and mumbled out the following:

 

“Your art is too dark. Can you make it lighter?”

 

I drew lots of detail in my pictures, and used a lot of layers, so he probably just wanted me to make it simpler and brighter, like a kid’s comic.

 

I was stunned. That was all he had to say?

 

That was the only thing he ever said to me, up until my serialization finished. From that point on, he would never talk directly to the artists, and always had his editors push his “policies” on them. To him, the artists were little more than tools used to make a magazine, and the only thing he cared about was how well they obeyed him. These changes in policy eventually came back to hurt him, as they pushed many promising authors away. Several years later, the magazine went bankrupt.

 

In Volume 4 of Umizaru, I was planning to kill off one character. I had laid all the groundwork for this event, and right when the arc was coming to its climax, they ordered me not to kill anyone. I couldn’t change the story at this point, but when I turned my storyboards in, they ordered me to change them. This forced me to explain every little plot point I had planned up to this point, and why this event was necessary to tie it all together, or else the initial concept of the manga would be unfulfilled.

 

But F-san just replied with: “You can keep drawing it without killing anyone off.” He didn’t listen to a thing I said.

 

This is where things started to level off. “I could keep drawing, but it’ll be bad. And I have no desire to redraw it just so that it can fit your policies.”

 

“No. Just do what I say,” he said at the end, as the conversation devolved into a child’s argument.

 

When I finished the manuscripts, I usually faxed them to the editors’ office, and F-san would tell me what needed changed over the phone.

 

This is what a religious cult phone call must sound like. They won’t let you hang up until you say ‘I believe.’

 

If I hadn’t become a mangaka, what would I be doing? I was so much of a screw-up that drawing manga was the only thing I could do, and I was also proud that I was a defect. It was all my own fault, after all. If my manga became popular, then everything I had done up until then would become worthwhile, but if it didn’t, then I would simply lose my job. If I screwed up, I wouldn’t have anyone else to blame it on, so I just had to trust in myself. If a person who could only draw manga lies with their manga, they won’t last.

 

In the end, I ignored the new policies and just drew what I wanted to.

 

That was all I could do, after all…

 

And as a result, I held on tight to the top spot in the popularity rankings.

 

F-san probably convinced himself that it was all thanks for him “giving up in the end and letting Sato-kun draw what he wanted,” but if that was always the case, then why did we always need to argue about it? It made no sense.

 

If an editor’s job was “to get in the way of the artist,” then F-san was a superstar. But I had a very strong desire to not waste what little time I had, so I started working hard to avoid conversation with him at all costs. I already avoided him to a certain degree, but now I was truly actively avoiding speaking to him as much as I could. In fact, I just gave up communicating with him altogether.

 

“Being a mangaka isn’t fun at all!” is what I thought in my second year, similar to what a new company employee feels in his second year. I loved manga, but I hated drawing it for a commercial magazine. Were they merely holding me in contempt because I was young? Or were all those editors simply insane?

 

I was 25.

 

To Be Continued



Sato’s Road to Manga #34

Soon, my first trade paperback volume went on sale.

 

The first printing sold 75,000 copies, an unprecedented high for a new mangaka. I received three million yen in royalties. At that point, I was already two million yen in the red. Half a year had passed since my serialization began, and finally, I was out of the red for a first time.

 

When I was trying to become a mangaka, I had thought that mangaka with their own serializations were all rich, and that among them, mangaka with their own weekly serializations were as successful as pro baseball players and entertainers on TV. I thought they were “chosen people,” which naturally meant they were rich as well.

 

I never thought they would be working dawn to dusk stuffed inside a tiny room with all their staff members, without enough money to even pay for their own health insurance and retirement.

 

Still, I was happy about getting to publish my first volume, and I went to the bookstore numerous times to see it. Staring at the stacks of my manga that were piled up and counting how many had disappeared became part of my daily routine. There were even people in my own town that wanted to read my manga, and carried the volumes in their hands as they walked around the store. Just thinking about that was fun for me. So far, I had come to that bookstore only as a customer, but now my own manga was lined up there.

 

I felt almost satisfied. I was making a living by drawing the manga I wanted, I had finally been able to publish my first volume, and almost all my dreams had come true. I had ignored the wishes of the editors and drawn the manga I believed in, and it took me to the top spot in the popularity rankings.

 

I started to think, “Is it OK for me to quit yet?”

 

All the members of my art staff were amateurs when the serialization began, but they had all become pretty good at what they did. Of course, they worked hard to increase their own skills, but I also stopped requiring them to be perfect. If I required something to be too close to what I imagined it would be, the staff members would just started searching for what they thought I thought “perfect” was, and they’d avoid trying to decide things on their own. In the end, they’d draw pictures that were more like guesswork than anything else, and the art would cease to have their own touches in it. I soon learned that as long as they succeeded in creating the overall image, having them draw it freely would result in much better work. If something isn’t going the way someone wants it to, it’s better for them to accept that and just enjoy it as it is. And if the image ends up too far away from the original picture, then they can fix it up themselves. In time, my staff members and I started to understand each other and changed the way we treated each other, and I think we managed to reach an optimal distance.

 

At the same time, we also had our share of problems.

 

I had two females and one male on my art staff. At the time, I was 25 years old. The male staff member was the same age as me, and both of the female staff members were young. In time, S-kun, the male staff member, started emphasizing the fact that he was a male who was also older, and therefore superior to the female staff members. Not only that, but for some reason, because he was the same age as me, he started acting like he and I were in the same position.

 

For example, when we finished working, S-kun wouldn’t help clean up his eraser or tone scraps. “Cleaning isn’t part of my job,” he would say. While I and the other female staff members cleaned, he would read a magazine.

 

When I asked him to help us clean, he said “I’m done working, so can I leave now?”

 

After swallowing my true sentiments, I said “We’re all cleaning together. But if you think it’s time for you to leave, then you may leave.” And he really did leave.

 

When it was time to eat, I would give the three of them money for food, and they would go out to eat together. But for some reason, S-kun would take the wallet and act like he was the one feeding the two women. Sometimes, they’d even come to complain to me.

 

When I asked him to go buy things for me, he’d look at the women, as if to say “That’s for them to do. They should go.”

 

Of course, the women’s stance was “If Sato-san orders us to go, then we’ll go, but we don’t understand why S-san gets to order us around too.”

 

When this reached him, he’d mumble things like “Young people really don’t respect their elders anymore. When I was a student, I was always polite to my elders!”

 

When he made misogynistic remarks, like “Women shouldn’t disobey men,” everyone would be shocked and call him on it. And when I tried to explain that all staff members were of the same status regardless of gender, he didn’t see to understand. Asking him to do things became a chore, so I eventually, I stopped doing it.

 

But leaving it that way would make the workspace unbalanced, so I tried asking him to do things when we were alone, and he’d say “Sato-san, are you on their side?”

 

On top of that, he was an extremely slow worker, but didn’t seem to realize this fact, which slowed his own skill progression, and caused me a lot of problems.

 

If I gave him enough time, though, he did good work, so I acknowledged his ability, but I feared that at this rate, he would end up destroying the social side of our workplace, so one night I invited him to go have a drink.

 

There, I told him “I’m giving you a suspension. When you come back, you need to change your workplace attitude and the pace you work at, otherwise, I won’t be able to keep employing you.”

 

I wanted to get along with my staff members, and things were going well with the other two, but he was becoming a problem. Dealing with this was additional work on top of my manga work, so it really tired me out. Working as an art staff member myself was tiring, but becoming the leader of a staff is something entirely different, I realized.

 

At the time, I was drawing manga to satisfy myself. That hasn’t changed even now, but back then, having other people read my work wasn’t exactly one of my goals. Should I just draw manga only to satisfy myself, without showing anyone, then? It was something I ruminated over a lot.

 

In a way, I started to lose sight of the meaning of continuing a job that gave me no social acknowledgement, made me suffer constantly in the red, and pressured me with the weight of a weekly serialization. I no longer understood what it menat to draw manga in a commercial magazine.

 

The volume had pushed me out of the red, but at the same time, I started to think, “Alright, is it OK for me to quit yet?”

 

There was absolutely nothing that kept me attached to the place I had always wanted to be in. I felt a large void, but it wouldn’t push me as far as wanting to quit, because I had nothing else I wanted to do, so I just kept wishing I could go on drawing manga somewhere that had absolutely nothing to do with business.

 

Umizaru Vol. 3 was the volume where I turned those feelings into a story. In this volume, the main character struggles about whether or not to continue working as a coast guard, but eventually restores his will to go on. It was the exact same problem that I was facing, and drawing it was a way to save myself.

 

One month after I invited S-kun out to drink, and told him that I was going to let him go. In the next month after Umizaru Vol. 1 was released, Vol. 2 went on sale. Only 50,000 copies were printed in the initial run, because all 75,000 copies of the first volume hadn’t sold. I was paid two million yen in royalties. Two months earlier, I had only had 70,000 yen to my name, but soon, that turned into five million. It was a sum I had never seen before, but I was still disappointed that it wasn’t five billion. Umizaru continued to take the top spot in the popularity rankings, and the serialization continued going well. At this rate, I could put out a volume every three months, earning myself another one or two million yen.

 

After S-kun left, I hired a new staff member. I knew that it wasn’t time for me to start talking about wanting to quit yet, though, so I decided to move. The 10.8 square meter room I lived in and worked in was far too small, and left me absolutely no private space. At the time, I was just sort of employing people, just sort of drawing manga, just sort of moving, and just sort of living. Perhaps it was actually better that I was too busy to think too deeply about things.

 

One day, after I stayed up all night to force myself into having some free time, I went to a real estate agency and found myself a new room. Then, several weeks later, on a hot day just before August, I left the apartment in Kouenji that I had lived in for four years and moved to Takadanobaba, just off the Yamanote Line.

 

To Be Continued



Sato’s Road to Manga #33

The chapters that followed Umizaru #10 were very popular.

 

Up until that point, Umizaru had been going up and down from the 2nd to 5th spots in the popularity rankings, which meant it was doing very well for a new mangaka’s series, but I really wanted it to get into the top spot at some point.

 

Judging from the popularity rankings alone, it seemed like Umizaru was slowly becoming a pillar of the magazine. At the very least, it seemed like I had overcome my first obstacle. It gave the serialization security, ensuring that it wouldn’t just get canceled all of a sudden. Not only that, but it was slowly becoming an important title even though it was written by a mysterious new mangaka who had appeared out of nowhere, but the truth was, no one else really thought about it that way. Everyone lauded F-san for becoming the editor of that Coast Guard project that had never amounted to anything and turning it into a pillar of the magazine, and for also raising up some nameless new mangaka. K-san also proudly declared that “his” project had been a success.

 

I’m the one losing sleep over this, is what I thought at the time.

 

But I knew that if I took the first spot, I’d finally get some praise. All the chapters after #10 were created entirely by me, after calling K-san’s ideas crappy and throwing them out, and without having any meetings with F-san. Of course, I ordered the data that I needed from K-san, and F-san did a very good job in his editing of my storyboards. My staff had also worked their hardest on the art. But the story was 100% created by me, period. I was trying to draw the relationship between the saviors and the saved, with the main character, a member of the coast guard, and the people he saves.

 

I thought that this story would earn me pure praise straight from the readers. If the manga dropped to the 6th or 7th spots at a result, then that would make it my fault. If it went as far as getting canceled, then they probably would blame me for getting too cocky, and never give me another chance. But if I took the top spot, it would prove that my decisions had been in the right. This really kept me on edge while I was drawing it.

 

Then, one day when I was in the middle of drawing that next arc, Umizaru took the #1 spot. When F-san told me this, I felt like I had finally won. I had done it, through nothing but my own ability. My labors had finally bore some fruit. In my mind, I thought “See? I really can draw good stuff if you just let me do what I want!”

 

I met him at the coffee shop in Kouenji that we always used when I delivered my manuscripts. After he told me the good news, he said “Don’t get too big for your britches, though! You’d better keep on doing your best all the way to the end!” But even when he said it, he seemed a bit pleased. “When you said you weren’t going to draw things how we wanted to you, honestly, I got a bit worried. But you took the #1 spot, so I’m totally relieved! Thanks!”

 

He even went as far as thanking me, which didn’t feel too bad. It did feel a bit strange to have him thanking me, though, since he always acted so arrogant.

 

At the same time, the publication date for my first volume was decided. It would be the first trade paperback volume of my manga that was ever published. Chapter-wise, it would come out while I was drawing the third volume. Finally, my first published volume would be coming out.

 

Then, F-san ordered another cup of coffee. “By the way, I have something else to talk to you about,” he said.

 

Since we had just spoken about the volume, as I expected, he wanted to talk to me about the royalties. K-san was the data collector/original creator of Umizaru, so whether or not he would be paid a portion of the royalties had been an outstanding problem. Earlier, F-san had told me that “I won’t do you wrong,” but how did things end up?

 

8:2. That was what the rate of the royalty payments would be.

 

8 to me, and 2 to K-san.

 

If the volume was priced at 500 yen, and I got paid 10% = 50 yen from that, it meant that from the 50, K-san would take 10, and I would take 40. If we printed 10,000 volumes, I would get 400,000, and K-san would get 100,000.

 

I was neither overjoyed nor saddened to hear this.

 

Earlier, F-san had told me that “to me, you’re doing all the work, Sato-kun, so K-san shouldn’t get any of the royalties, but we have to make sure things go along with the precedents, company-wise.” Once he shut up, I had responded with “Fine. In that case, just make it 5:5.”

 

After that, when I had complained to him about the manuscript fees being too little, he had yelled at me, saying “That’s only because you’re handling your staff badly. You’re paying them too much!” which had made me very angry.

 

It seemed as if he had expected me to get angry and say “It should be 10:0!” when he told me it was 8:2. This is proof that F-san thought that 10:0 was the way it should have been.

 

Then, all of a sudden, F-san asked me: “Are you doing alright money-wise?”

 

“Huh?” I answered.

 

“You know, you can’t make it on the manuscript fees alone, right? Now that your volume is getting published, if you’re low on cash, you can borrow some money on your royalty payments if you want.”

 

Borrow?

 

Why did I have to incur debt from my editor to keep working on my serialization?

 

In the end, serializations are always a gamble. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get to publish a volume when you start a serialization. It’s like playing the lottery, or getting a nice surprise. Yet, the low manuscript fees made it common sense that a mangaka would go into the red, and the royalties acted as a way for them to climb out of it. In this system, mangaka were little more than slaves.

 

The royalty rate did bother me, but to me, 8:2 was not much different from 5:5, because it wasn’t 10:0. It still meant that someone who didn’t necessarily have copyrights to the work was getting royalties for it. It also meant that from the moment F-san had told me “I won’t do you wrong,” he had basically given up. F-san may have been trying to be nice when he said that, but that still didn’t help me understand why I was supposed to go into debt to keep working for him. I didn’t think it was right that the more I worked, the more I went into debt.

 

And so, I forgot about taking the top spot, forgot about getting my volume published, and got really sad.

 

When famous actors talk about their golden days and say “I had absolutely no time to sleep,” they still had time to sleep when they were riding in their taxis, right? They had at least ten minutes to relax in the dressing room, right? Manga artists have absolutely no free time from the moment they go to sleep to the moment when they wake up, and if they stay up all night, that means they’ve been working 24 hours non-stop. Why do they still have to go into debt, despite working so much?

 

“More importantly, I took the top spot, so will you pay me more for my manuscript fees?”

 

It just slipped out of my mouth. And at that moment, F-san stopped acting considerate toward me.

 

“A lot of different series are serialized in our manga, you know? If we start paying one artist more, the other artists will start wanting increases too. And if we start doing that, we’ll go bankrupt before we know it. How could we let ourselves go bankrupt because of the demands of some newbie?”

 

It surprised me, and as I raised my head, I felt his saliva fly on to my face.

 

“You think I have time to listen to your selfish demands?!”

 

He yelled at me. So loud, in fact, that other customers in the coffee shop turned around and looked at us. I didn’t care if he didn’t call me “sensei,” or “Sato-kun,” I just wished he wouldn’t call me selfish.

 

It made me so frustrated, I started clenching my fists together. I refused to borrow money from him, and started cutting even more away from my meager life. Afterwards, around the time when the first volume had been published, my two million yen of savings had been reduced to 70,000.

 

Additionally, regarding Umizaru taking the top spot in the popularity rankings, F-san said “Usually, an editor would never leave a manga to a new mangaka like that, but in my case, I was nice enough to let him do as he pleased, because I knew it was the right decision,” and took all the credit for himself.

 

I was happy to get the #1 spot, but no matter how hard I worked, I could never actually “get” the #1 spot due to my own hard work.

 

Never having any expectations, regardless of the circumstances, is the key to happiness.

 

At that moment, I remembered what the mangaka named F-san had told me when he first hired me as his assistant. “Once your two years are up, I’ll start treating you like a human.”

 

Mangaka are less than human.

 

To Be Continued



Sato’s Road to Manga #32

“Aren’t I the one who’s drawing this manga?”

 

After I said that, F-san and K-san looked at me in shock.

 

“Well, you do draw the art…” K-san began, but then F-san cut in.

 

“First, just say whatever you want to say to us.”

 

Part of me wondered why I had to explain something so basic, sitting in front of them in this dimly-lit bar in Kanbo-cho, but I put my shame aside and began to speak.

 

“I started drawing Umizaru because the editors requested that I draw a manga that dealt with the Coast Guard. I’m the one who’s thinking up the story here, right?”

 

Both of them were silent. They didn’t agree with me, obviously, so they didn’t nod in agreement. It was just as I had expected, and that only made me feel more pathetic.

 

I continued speaking.

 

“Do you remember who thought up the first story for the serialized chapters? I took the two jobs of the Coast Guard – sea rescue and sea patrol, and put them together in one episode. I’m the one who did that, correct? Did either of you give out any ideas at that meeting? For the second episode, I did use K-san’s data as a reference for the sea patrol bit. But I used it because I thought the information was useful. Do you understand? I made the decision. I created the story.”

 

It may have sounded arrogant, but it was the truth. I never listened to what F-san said during the meetings, and this was only because I thought they were useless in terms of thinking up a good story. To me, F-san was the person who pointed out what I was lacking in each storyboard, while K-san brought me data. I admired them for carrying out their duties in those respects, but they hardly ever gave me any advice as to the actual settings of the story.

 

This clearly upset K-san. “What, so you wrote that entire thing yourself?” he asked.

 

“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that we each have our own roles here, and I’m the one who thinks up the story. Sometimes, I order some materials. If K-san took my order and brought me some materials, could I say that I was the one who did the research? It’s the same thing as that. You can say whatever you want about the story, but I’m the one who’s writing it,” I said.

 

K-san tried to say something, but then F-san stopped him again.

 

“So, what are you trying to say?”

 

I answered him. “Why did you decide on the story for the next episode without me? I’m the one who’s writing the story, and you didn’t even consult me.”

 

There was a pause, and then F-san said his next line with a snarl. “Well what are we going to do about next week? This is a weekly serialization. You’re busy drawing the manga, and we can’t take off a week so someone has to think up the story, right? We aren’t just here to watch over you so you can have fun playing around and drawing what you like. We’re working. We’re making a magazine. We can’t push the deadline just so you can have your way.”

 

As I expected, he was very accusatory and oppressive with his response, so I clammed up again.

 

“I don’t even care who writes the story. All I care about is making sure a chapter appears each week in the magazine!”

 

As the situation grew more awkward, K-san tried to step in between us and calm things down.

 

“Sato-kun’s doing his best,” he said. Just who did he think he was? At that point, all my shame seemed to wash away, and I ceased to care about anything at all.

 

“But this story sucks. It’s something K-san just brought in today, isn’t it? It totally sucks. I’m not interested in writing boring stories like that.”

 

When I said that, K-san’s countenance immediately worsened. F-san glared at me. But I went on.

 

“If I wrote something boring, then the serialization would end, wouldn’t it? Then I would be out of a job. And F-san would have to quit his. And you would blame me for it being boring, wouldn’t you, K-san? Why do I have to draw something that everyone knows is boring? And put my own name on it! I’ll deliver the chapter by the deadline. If you just let me work, I know I’ll be able to come up with something good. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing so far. If you think you’re the ones who are helping me write the story, then you aren’t serving any purpose. You act like you’re the brains, yet you can’t even realize that you’re not serving any purpose at all? If you’re going to force me to draw something, then I just won’t do it. I’ll quit this entire thing.”

 

By this point, I was desperate.

 

“Well listen to you…” F-san muttered. “Fine, you don’t have to.”

 

Surprised at F-san’s words, K-san spoke up. “If I’m not serving any purpose, then I’ll quit.”

 

Probably realizing that K-san wasn’t being sincere, F-san ignored him and spoke directly to me. “You don’t have to write the story I give you. You’ve thought up some kind of story in your own mind, right? Tell us about it.”

 

“No. You just told me you don’t care who writes the story, so why should I bother telling you about it? You don’t care.”

 

With that, F-san drooped his head and scratched his hair. “I did rhythmic gymnastics when I was in college, you know.” Suddenly, his voice sounded very small. “It was a physical education university, so I was surrounded by people who were really good at it, and I sort of began to see where my limits were. I really wanted to be a gymnast, you know. I didn’t want to become an editor. Why did I even become one?”

 

Was he trying to make me feel sorry for him? Hearing such a speech from someone who made over 10 million yen a year only made me feel like I was being made fun of.

 

“We just had dinner with the chief and ten other editors, didn’t we? You may think that’s a normal happening Sato-kun, but it isn’t… we aren’t just doing that because the economy’s up. It’s because everyone’s got high hopes for this manga… honestly, they’ve got high hopes for you! The chief even came over to me the other day and asked me what would be happening next in Umizaru! The manager! That’s the person above the chief! The entire company is banking on Umizaru!”

 

Then pay me some money instead of taking me out to dinner. The volume still hasn’t been published, and I’m in the red.

 

“Satou-kun seems to want to do things his own way, so I guess we should just let him,” K-san muttered, out of spite.

 

Crappy people say crappy things.

 

“You’re not going to quit, are you? You’re going to keep drawing it, right?” The way F-san was making his voice sound weak really pissed me off, so I didn’t answer him.

 

I just stared him in the eyes, and said nothing.

 

“We won’t have any meetings, so just show me the chapter when you finish it,” he said. F-san would be the one who had to announce to the chief that the serialization was ending if I quit, so I imagine that from his position, that was all he could do.

 

I left the bar and got into a taxi. The trains had stopped running, so this was the only way I could get home. It was sad to think that I couldn’t ride in a taxi unless I was sure that the publisher would pay for it.

 

I suppose I could have also gotten home if I walked for 5 or 6 hours. But I had received a taxi ticket from F-san. After what I said, I should have put my foot down and not used what he gave me, but I just didn’t have the means. In the end, manga artists really are slaves to the publishers. And I didn’t really care anymore.

 

The more I drew, the poorer I got. Me working all day with hardly any sleep was exactly what the publishers wanted me to do. There was absolutely nothing good to be had from becoming a mangaka. No one respected me just because my name was written on some page in a magazine, and nothing particularly special happened.

 

But despite all that, when I got back to my apartment-cum-studio, what did I do? I pulled out some paper, sat at my desk and started outlining the panels for my next chapter.

 

I couldn’t just stop drawing manga. It was all I had left. F-san and K-san were really just small fries. The big enemies I had to take down were much farther behind them. And I wasn’t about to let those monsters crush me.

 

I remembered several years back, when I took some manga into a publisher and then went in a park in Ikebukuro and sat there for several hours. The publisher hadn’t liked my work, and I had been completely drained. I watched the people who walked through the circular ring in the middle of the park and noticed how everyone seemed to avoid walking through the exact center of it. Why? I wondered, and began to count the people who actually did. Did most people avoid walking through it becuse it would make the people around the edges look at them? Then what kind of person chose to step into the center? Why was I sitting on the edge, and not standing in the center?

 

Because I’m weak. But it’s possible for weak people to become strong as long as they identify their weakness. People who are born strong don’t need to do that, I guess.

 

Are “heroes” the kind of people who can stand in the center? Heroes aren’t heroes because they’re strong. Courage is only necessary when someone is weak. And there are a lot of stories about boys who aren’t heroes who later become heroes. Stories about boys who become heroes and stand in the center. Stories about how weak people stay weak yet still stand up against their enemies.

 

And so, I finished the first chapter of the “Pleasure Boat” arc of Umizaru. It’s a story about a lone boy who gets wrapped up in a sea accident and how he survives.

 

In the morning, I sent the finished storyboard to F-san. Then, without waiting for his reply, I began work on the actual manuscript.

 

To Be Continued